VOICES: This Giving Tuesday, support Ohio’s HBCUs

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Rev. J. Bennett Guess. (CONTRIBUTED)

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ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Rev. J. Bennett Guess. (CONTRIBUTED)

This Giving Tuesday – the post-Thanksgiving fundraising day when countless non-profits are clamoring for your attention and dollars – the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has decided to forego asking for donations that day – at least for ourselves.

Instead, we want to invite justice-minded Ohioans to join our board, staff, and statewide membership in lifting and supporting our state’s two historically Black universities, Wilberforce University and Central State University, both located in Wilberforce, Ohio, in Greene County. We think it’s time that more of us learn and celebrate the trailblazing histories and contributions of these two powerful, inclusive academic institutions.

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Wilberforce University was founded in 1856 before the Civil War, when the Ohio Underground Railroad was a means of escape for Black people seeking freedom in the north. One of the destination points of this freedom trail became Wilberforce University.

Formed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilberforce was the first U.S. college to be fully owned and operated by African Americans, while serving students of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions since its inception. Named to honor a great 18th century abolitionist, William Wilberforce, it holds a place of honor as the nation’s very first historically Black college or university (HBCU), right here in greater Dayton.

Originally a department within Wilberforce University, Central State University was formed in 1887 by an act of the Ohio legislature as a state institution of higher education. By 1941, Central State was offering four-year degrees in multiple disciplines, gaining its own independent campus in 1947. As early pioneers in interracial learning and living, both schools have faced institutional hurdles, yet with odds-defying histories that prove where the will is strong and the cause is righteous and just, a way will present itself.

Today, these historic mother-daughter institutions serve as twin beacons – one private, one public – helping students prepare for life and careers as global citizens, with enhanced centers of excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, alongside other fields of study.

Rooted in justice and equality, these two Ohio universities remain close missional partners and collaborators with one another and, more recently, with the ACLU of Ohio. Together, we envision a just and equitable Ohio where all people are fairly represented in a strong democracy, unoppressed by racism, and able to live their fullest lives.

HCBUs are a worthy investment of our philanthropic dollars. Both Wilberforce and Central State serve many first-generation college students who thrive in climates of respect, trust, and support that foster success. These schools instill values of social justice in their graduates, values that are deeply engrained in these institutions’ origins, histories, and missions. Wilberforce and Central State make higher education more accessible and affordable, helping to narrow Ohio’s significant racial wealth gap.

On November 30, as you’re discerning where to invest your Giving Tuesday dollars, we hope you’ll consider becoming part of a new groundswell of support for Wilberforce and Central State, two historical and present-day gems in Ohio that are deserving of our investment. As for the ACLU of Ohio, that’s the ask of our members and supporters this year.

J. Bennett Guess is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which has more than 30,000 members and supporters in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.